Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 3, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Aug. 3, 2018

Do you have a question you want answered? Click here to ask our veteran reporter and he'll track down an answer.

Safety is on the minds of some Mailbag readers this week, particularly when it comes to riders of bicycles and horses.

Also questions about Kindness Rocks, the UI Arcade, wastewater treatment, dockless bikes, Sam's Cafe and more.


Kindness Rocks

"We live on Scovill (in Urbana) and last week someone had placed a lovely painted rock with a rainbow and shining sun in our front garden. On the back it said '#Kindness Rock Project Urbana' and on the front 'and we still ...' I couldn't quite read the last word. Do you know anything about this project? It is quite nice."

Samantha Olson helped organize the Mahomet Kindness Rocks Project, which has almost 300 Facebook members.

"More get added daily," she said.

She is unaware of who is behind the kindness rock project in Urbana, but it's pretty obvious it's the same idea (which apparently began with Megan Murphy of Cape Cod, Mass., who calls herself a "kindness activist.")

The idea, Olson said, is to "paint the rocks and hide them out to spread kindness and brighten someone's day. When they find it they could be at their lowest and finding a rock with a scripture or encouraging words can change their day to be a much better one. Kids especially love this."

She learned of the movement from social media "and I was hooked right away. I knew there wasn't anything in our area like that and I just decided to start it and people just flooded in."

She said she deposits the painted rocks at parks, playgrounds, restaurants and other public areas "so that when people are just walking by, like at the Filippo's Restaurant in Mahomet, they can pick one up and it will make people smile or give them an inspirational quote. At Filippo's we painted ones that looked like little slices of pizza."

Olson said the group held two community painting events last summer in Mahomet that attracted a total of more than 50 people.

"On the back of our rocks we like to link them to our Facebook group so that we get the word out and the movement can get bigger and bigger," she said.


Diner dilemma

"Rumor has it that Sam's Cafe might be going to 24 hours per day now that Merry Ann's Diner has closed downtown. Is there any hope for those of us in need of a midnight snack?"

Sam Issa, the longtime owner of Sam's Cafe, said he is not interested in operating his place 24 hours a day.

"No, no, no, no, no. We close at 2 o'clock (p.m.)," he said.

Sam works hard enough. Stop the "rumor."

There are plenty of places in town that offer a midnight snack, including the two remaining Merry Ann's.


Dockless bikes

"At the university this summer in a couple of bike lots, some of the arced parking posts have neon green reflective tape circling the base of the pipe. The tape is not attached to the post, only to itself. What is this about?"

The tape indicates where dockless bike share companies will be permitted to launch the bicycles when they first place them on campus, said Steve Breitweiser, the manager of communications & external relations for campus Facilities & Services.

"These tags also specify areas where bike share companies can later redistribute their bike fleet, if necessary. The tags are intended as a guide for bike share companies only," he said. "Bike share users will be able to park and conclude rides at any bike rack location on campus."


Safe bicycle riding

"In response to the question (last week) about riding bikes on country roads — please stop. There are several designated bike paths throughout Urbana and Champaign, as well as the new Kickapoo Rail Trail. Repeatedly I witness cyclists choose a country road over a designated bike path (the trail) when the difference in distance is 1 / 4 mile tops. Thank you to Keith Padgett for noting the unfortunate decision bike riders make when choosing to ride on country roads that were literally never built for bikes. I don't want to see cyclists get hurt. That is why designated areas for cyclists have been created. Please utilize them for everyone's safety."


"I'm not the person who asked about cycling on rural roads, but I found the first couple sentences of Keith Padgett's response unnecessarily dismissive and disrespectful toward some of his road users. It brought a couple questions to mind:

— Is it legal for cyclists to ride on township roads?

— Mr. Padgett mentioned 'too many cyclist deaths' on township roads. How many deaths are we talking about here, and how does that compare to car fatalities? I can't find any numbers one way or the other.

Also, Mr. Padgett directed the questioner to the 'many bike dedicated paths in the Champaign-Urbana area.' As a reminder to Mr. Padgett and others who share his mindset, cycling is legal on all city streets, not just paths and streets with bike lanes."


"It is unfortunate that Champaign Township Highway Commissioner Keith Padgett believes it is unfortunate that bicyclists choose to ride in our beautiful rural areas versus in the city. In the cities where more than a few MTD buses couldn't care less if they put cyclists in danger with their careless actions, where university vehicles pull out of parking lots right in front of cyclists, where too many drivers don't understand what 'Bikes May Use Full Lane' signs mean nor do they know how to give adequate room when passing, where work trucks routinely block the bike lanes, where the cities let bike lanes remain torn up, where car accident remains get swept into bike lanes, but I digress ....

"My question in response to Mr. Padgett is how many cycling accidents have happened in rural areas versus in the cities? I am really curious where is more dangerous to bike."

First, yes, it is legal to ride bikes on township roads.

Second, we got a list of bicycle-related traffic deaths in Champaign County from 2005 to 2017 from Coroner Duane Northrup. There were a dozen, although some were accidents that had occurred in other counties. Eight of the fatalities were covered in news reports and five of them occurred in urban areas versus three that occurred in rural areas. Of those three, however, only one occurred on a township road. The others were on Illinois 130 and on U.S. 45.

I'm not sure what that proves, though, because the amount of miles traveled by bike within the urban areas of Champaign County will be much greater than that outside the cities.

Statewide in 2015 there were 26 bicyclists killed on Illinois roads — 21 in urban settings and five on rural roads. By comparison there were 148 pedestrian fatalities and 818 automobile fatalities.

Bottom line: be safe driving, riding a bike and walking, no matter where you are.


Safe horseback riding

"Are there traffic laws regarding horses? When riding, we try to keep our horses well into the grassy ditches, but people are inordinately rude. They speed past, sometimes yelling and revving their engines. Can they be held responsible if a horse is spooked by their behavior and injures the rider?"

Yes, they can be charged with at least a misdemeanor and possibly a felony.

Here's the relevant Illinois law, provided to us by Henry Haupt, a spokesman for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White:

625 ILCS 5/11-703

"(e) A person driving a motor vehicle shall not, in a reckless manner, drive the motor vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward, or near a bicyclist, pedestrian, or a person riding a horse or driving an animal drawn vehicle.

"(f) Every person convicted of paragraph (e) of this Section shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if the violation does not result in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another. If the violation results in great

bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another, the person shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony."


University/State intersection

"I know you have been getting a lot of intersection questions lately, but I have another intersection that has been a problem lately. At the corner of University Avenue and State Street in Champaign, there are two left turn lanes when traveling westbound on University to southbound on State. I travel on this stretch five days a week after work. About 2-3 times per month, a vehicle in the left turn lane crosses into the right turn lane in the middle of the intersection and cuts off a vehicle (me) in the right turn lane. I believe this is because vehicles are eventually going to turn right on U.S. 150 (Springfield Avenue) a few blocks south. The dotted lane markers and other painted lines in that intersection are faded. I believe this would be up to the city to rectify. Can the markers be repainted or additional signage be added to help motorists navigate this intersection? Someone is going to get hurt one of these days."

"It's going to happen, said Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester.

"As far as signage, there is a lane usage sign directly across from the stop bar on the traffic signal," he said.

"This line wears off very quickly, we try and refresh this once a year. Right now it's a skip dash, but when it is refreshed this year, it will be changed to a solid line to help it become more pronounced. We've assigned this to our striping/marking contractor Varsity Striping, it will be completed before their contract ends in November, likely within the next month," Koester said.


South Champaign issue

"Very often there is a lot of water on Devonshire Drive where it crosses over the Boulware Trail. I walk there every morning. It is there even when there has not been rain for days. I wonder where it comes from."

"Over the years since its construction there has been some settlement of the pavement panels and a section of curb on either side of the culvert just to the west of the trail," Koester explained. "This has created a situation where some water cannot get to the inlets and off of the street.

"Next year, as part of the city's annual infrastructure maintenance contract, the culvert will receive a new asphalt wearing surface and the grade issues will be addressed by reconstructing some pavement and curb to ensure the water can reach the inlets again."


Wastewater treatment

"I have another set of sanitary district questions for you. How long does the water take to be treated, how much solid waste (composted and non-compostable) remains, and how is it disposed? Are there any notably unusual finds that have made it into the system?"

Here are your answers, courtesy of Rick Manner, executive director of the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District:

"Thanks for the questions. It is always great to have somebody be interested about what happens to the wastewater that they generate. So please keep them coming.

"The sewage that enters the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District's sewage treatment plant is treated immediately. Since the flow rate into the plant is variable, the average time to treat the water varies between six and 12 hours. The solids and dissolved pollutants are a small fraction of the sewage. Sewage is 99.97 percent water by weight at the start of our operations. It ends up being 99.9997 percent water when we discharge it to the creeks.

"The solids that are removed from the water are stabilized, via a process we call anaerobic digestion, which is analogous to the composting process your questioner referred to. Digestion is about halfway complete in the first day, but the solids are held in the process for about a month.

"During the anaerobic digestion about two-thirds of the solids are consumed and stabilized by common bacteria, producing cellular material, methane, carbon dioxide, and water. Since 2005, we burn the methane in electric generators we have on site. They produce about one-third of the electricity we use and about one-half of the heating requirements we have at the Northeast Plant. For the 50 years before that, we burned the methane to run a blower used in our process. I like to point out that the sanitary district was green long before it was cool to be green.

"After the digestion process, we call the stabilized product 'biosolids,' which indicates that the solids are refined enough so that they can be re-used in some form. The daily amount of biosolids fills most of a long dump-truck. Those solids are stored, waiting for a good time for it to be applied to local farmers' fields. Land application is the most common way that biosolids, which is mostly cellular carbon, inorganic residue and nutrients, are recycled in the United States.

"The application process is usually done at a convenient time for the farmer, in the spring or fall. The process is quite regulated as to which fields are acceptable. Biosolids cannot be applied to crops that will be consumed by people. In addition, where, when, how and how much can be applied is decided by an agronomist who is trained regarding the regulations.

"Regarding any interesting finds, we receive and treat whatever people decide to flush. With the turbulent flow in the sewers, many solids are broken up into non-recognizable pieces. I have heard stories of people who have taken the concept of flushing money down the toilet to a literal extreme, but I haven't found enough that was worth washing up for me."


UI Arcade

"Why is the area on campus by Student Services known as the Arcade?"

According to the online UI Histories Project, "The Bradley Arcade originated as a shopping center sometime prior to the Great Depression, possibly around 1912. At its height, it 'contained such things as a barber shop, a clothier, a restaurant and a bowling alley.' However, the Depression forced many of the shops out of business and by 1927 it had become an annex to the Illini Union housed in the former YMCA building. In 1932 the building became the home of the Illini Union Bookstore and in 1938 the University purchased the 24,600 square foot building outright for a cost of $80,000."

By 1952, the University leased space in the building to various commercial entities such as restaurants. Today the building at 715 S. Wright St., Champaign, houses the UI Career Center and the Student Financial Aid offices.


Monical's work

"Any news on the old Monical's building on Kirby? Such an odd building."

Champaign Building Safety Supervisor Larry Happ said that no permit applications have been submitted for the former Monical's Pizza at 103 W. Kirby Ave.

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